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How rugby league saved Darren Dean's life

Ten minutes.

One, two, three four... 600 seconds and Englishman Darren Dean's life would have ended in a Brisbane hospital as a result of an unprovoked assault whilst in Airlie Beach on a backpacking trip around Australia, a trip that would be life-changing in more ways than one.

A promising and devoted junior with the Dewsbury Rams near Leeds in the north of England, Dean's life's extraordinary chain of events began when fatigue and bruising became the early indicators that at 19 years of age he was suffering from leukaemia.

He would play again for his beloved Dewsbury Rams but he was then struck down with Avascular Necrosis – dead veins – as a result of his cancer treatment that essentially meant that his hips were disintegrating and would have to be replaced.

Life threw more at him in the ensuing years than any one person should have to confront yet when at his lowest ebb it was rugby league that brought him back.

On Saturday, Dean will run out and play rugby league again as one of three Wakefield Physical Disability Rugby League representatives who will team up with Titans legends to play the Titans' PDRL team at Cbus Super Stadium prior to the Titans' NRL clash with the Broncos.

It represents not only a dream come true but the metaphoric burying of a nightmare.

One of the mums saw her son score a try for the first time and it made her cry. The emotional aspect for the parents is great because it's not been accessible to them in the past.

Darren Dean

"This coming along after 20 years is just absolutely fantastic for me," Dean tells of the advent of PDRL in the UK, with Wakefield Trinity, St Helens, Wigan, Castleford, Warrington and Leeds all now boasting PDRL teams.

"It's like my life started all over again.

"There was always something missing that I couldn't quite put my finger on but if you love rugby league you love rugby league. That's what was missing in my life.

"I took it quite hard mentally but now it's a dream come true for me."

That Dean has spent the past week on the Gold Coast with Wakefield teammates Connor Lynes and Ben Nicholson meeting Titans players and speaking with Immortal Mal Meninga is a miracle in itself.

"I was just going home from a night out," Dean says of the Airlie Beach assault.

"Got assaulted. They didn't even pinch my wallet or my camera or anything. They didn't touch me from the neck down, it was all my head.

"I was in hospital for a couple of months where they had to retrain my brain.

"I was in an induced coma at first and then when I came out of that they would show me cue cards of a cat and a dog, things like that, starting from scratch.

"They flew my family out because it wasn't looking good.

"They said I was 10 minutes off passing.

"The Australian life that I wanted at the time, I got that taken away from me.

"I thought it would be another lifetime where I'd be able to come back, and here I am, in Australia, playing rugby, which was a childhood dream of mine."

It's just so inspirational what they're doing, in the UK and in Aus...

Kallum Watkins Titans recruit

Dean, Lynes and Nicholson are three of the originals of the Wakefield Trinity PDRL team, a team that had just four players when it was formed 18 months ago.

Little more than a year on and they have no trouble filling the required 13 players on match day, everyone who has come into the side inspring Dean in their own right.

"Everyone who comes into this team now is an inspiration to me," he says.

"You will find that there's not any one person the same so they bring along their stories and you can empathise with them, what they've been through.

"Through word of mouth, stories being told, it's made it more accessible for more people to join.

"We've got a young guy called Harry who has got cerebral palsy. Bit of a quiet guy at first and now he's pretty much the comedian of the team. He's definitely come out of his shell, which we all do because it's going into something new.

"One of the mums saw her son score a try for the first time and it made her cry. The emotional aspect for the parents is great because it's not been accessible to them in the past. Now they've got the chance and the parents are so proud of their children, as they should be.

"Some of our players had never played rugby league at all because it had never been accessible to them but now that PDRL has come along, the game that they love to watch, now they get to play as well."

Titans debutant Kallum Watkins saw the influence of PDRL first-hand with the Leeds Rhinos and says it is wonderful more and more people get to play the game they love.

"It's just so inspirational what they're doing, in the UK and in Aus, building the game up and giving them the opportunity to do what they love doing," Watkins said.

"Leeds set that all up last year and there are some characters in that team as well which has been a pleasure to meet them and speak to them.

"They've got that opportunity to play and that's all they've wanted.

"They've obviously been put in difficult situations in their lives but they've shown determination to come through that and being able to do what they enjoy doing despite what might have happened."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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